The opening night of the NFL draft should have been a crowning moment for Ole Miss football.
Three members of the Rebels’ highly regarded 2013 recruiting class — offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche — were selected in the first round on Thursday night. It was the first time in the school’s history that three of its players were chosen that high.
But the night quickly turned into one that Rebels coach Hugh Freeze would like to forget.
Shortly before the draft started, Tunsil’s verified Twitter account was reportedly hacked and a video of Tunsil smoking a bong while wearing a gas mask was posted.
Tunsil, who was considered the No. 1 pick in the draft until recently, fell out of the top 10 after the video surfaced.
Not long after the Miami Dolphins selected Tunsil with the 13th pick, his Instagram account was reportedly hacked as well. Screenshots of alleged text messages between Tunsil and John Miller, the Rebels’ assistant athletics director for football operations, were posted. In the text messages, Tunsil asked for money to pay rent and his mother’s $305 electric bill.
In a press conference at the draft in Chicago, Tunsil admitted to accepting money from a coach while playing at Ole Miss.
“I’d have to say yeah,” Tunsil said when asked by a reporter if he took money from a coach.
Here are five things to know about the developing story:
1. Ole Miss’ 2013 recruiting class raised quite a few eyebrows
When Ole Miss signed a top-five recruiting class in February 2013, which included Tunsil, Nkemdiche and Treadwell, the celebrated haul was greeted by much skepticism by fans of rival schools.
In fact, after several fans accused the Rebels of cheating via Twitter and other social media, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze surprisingly posted on Twitter that anyone with information about alleged rules violations should contact his school’s compliance office.
“I want to know if there’s something going on,” Freeze told ESPN in February 2013. “There’s too much at stake for our program, our coaches and our families. I know the way we’re doing it, and we’re doing it the right way. If somebody has got something, they need to come on with it.
“It gets frustrating to get bombarded with it constantly. People take it way too far, and it’s not fair to our players and their families to have to read it. It’s one thing to suspect something and it’s another thing to start naming names. I was really shocked by the amount of it and crudeness of it.”
Ole Miss received 85 tips of alleged wrongdoing, and the school released 54 of the emails to the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger in July 2013 through state open-record laws. Ole Miss officials told the newspaper: “Many of those emails repeat similar, unsubstantiated rumors. None of the emails provide first-hand information and none have led to any findings of violations.”
At the time, Ole Miss officials said it wouldn’t release the other 31 allegations because of NCAA rules and in order to preserve the integrity of its own investigation. Ole Miss officials said releasing some of the emails could have a “chilling effect of the future sources on information, thus frustrating our compliance and enforcement efforts.”
2. The NCAA has been investigating Ole Miss for the past three years
The NCAA started looking into alleged rules violations involving Ole Miss women’s basketball team in 2012, and its investigation expanded to include the football and track and field programs.
In late January, Ole Miss received a notice of allegations from the NCAA. The school hasn’t released the notice, but Rebels athletics director Ross Bjork said many of the alleged violations “date back to the former football coaching staff in 2010 and the withholding and reinstatement process of Laremy Tunsil in the fall of 2015.”
Schools typically have 90 days to respond to the NCAA. On April 22, Bjork announced that one of the other parties cited in the NCAA notice of allegations received a 30-day extension to respond to the allegations. Once the 30-day extension ends, Bjork indicated the school would release its full response to the notice.
It is unclear how Tunsil’s new allegations, if true, will affect the timeline or scope of the NCAA investigation.
3. Tunsil was suspended for seven games at the start of the 2015 season for accepting improper benefits
Tunsil’s decision to attend Ole Miss was perhaps the most surprising development in the 2013 class. Tunsil, the top offensive tackle prospect in the country from Lake City, Florida, was verbally committed to attend Georgia before abruptly changing his mind shortly before signing day. He also considered Alabama and Florida.
In order to secure Tunsil, Ole Miss offered his younger brother, Alex Weber, a scholarship to play football at the school, which isn’t a violation of NCAA rules. Weber, a lightly regarded receiver at Columbia High in Lake City, wasn’t included among a list of 232 wide receiver prospects in Florida for the 2014 recruiting cycle.
Weber was redshirted in 2014 and played in one game against Tennessee-Martin this past season.
Tunsil’s mother, Desiree Polingo, and stepfather, Lindsey Miller, moved to Oxford, Mississippi, shortly after Tunsil enrolled in college. In June 2015, Tunsil and his stepfather were charged with domestic assault after an incident at his mother’s home. Tunsil said he punched Miller after his stepfather assaulted his mother. However, Miller alleged the attack was unprovoked, and told police that his stepson punched him six times after he warned him about associating with agents. Criminal charges against both men were later dropped.
In July of 2015, NCAA investigators met with Miller about allegations of multiple rules violations committed by the Rebels. Ole Miss officials withheld Tunsil from competition at the start of the 2015 season, and then the NCAA suspended him for the first seven games for accepting improper benefits.
The NCAA determined that Tunsil improperly used three loaner cars without paying during a six-month period, received two nights of lodging at a local home, accepted an airline ticket purchased by a friend of a teammate and used a rental car for one day without paying. The NCAA also alleged that Tunsil received an interest-free, four-month loan to make a $3,000 down payment for a used car. NCAA investigators also said Tunsil wasn’t initially forthcoming during the investigation about his use of the vehicles. On Tuesday, Miller filed a civil lawsuit against Tunsil in Lafayette County Court in Oxford, alleging that Tunsil defamed his character and caused “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
4. Nkemdiche had his own problems before the draft
Nkemdiche, an All-American defensive tackle, was also considered a potential top-five pick in the NFL draft, until he was involved in a bizarre incident at an Atlanta hotel in December 2015. He was picked No. 29 overall by the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. (Treadwell was picked 23rd by the Minnesota Vikings.)
Nkemdiche, who was considered the No. 1 prospect in the country as a senior at Grayson (Georgia) High School in 2013, was injured after he broke a fourth-floor window in a downtown Atlanta hotel, climbed over a wall and fell approximately 15 feet. Nkemdiche was conscious when police officers responded to the scene, and he was transported to a hospital.
Atlanta police said they found a small amount of marijuana in Nkemdiche’s hotel room. He was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and was suspended from playing in the Rebels’ 48-20 win over Oklahoma State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Nkemdiche’s older brother, Denzel, a starting linebacker at Ole Miss, was hospitalized in Oxford in November for what the school described as a “personal matter.” Denzel Nkemdiche didn’t play in the Rebels’ final three games.
5. So who hacked Tunsil’s social media accounts?
While some Ole Miss fans were quick to point their fingers at his stepfather, Lindsey Miller’s attorney, Matthew Wilson of Starkville, Mississippi, said his client wasn’t involved in the act.
“We were completely surprised,” Wilson said. “We denounce whoever did this. It is abhorrent. It is cowardly and is just patently wrong and illegal. Whoever did this should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. It goes without saying that, obviously, we didn’t have anything to do with it.”
An Ole Miss official said Friday morning that the school was working to verify whether the alleged text messages between Tunsil and John Miller are authentic.
Barney Farrar, the Ole Miss assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations, who also was mentioned in the alleged text messages, told ESPN’s Joe Schad that he has not given Tunsil money and that Tunsil never asked him for money. Ole Miss issued a statement early Friday morning, which said: “Like we do whenever an allegation is brought to our attention or a potential violation is self-discovered, we will aggressively investigate and fully cooperate with the NCAA and the SEC.”